Twelve kiwi have been released on to farmland and bush at Hikurangi Swamp after years of hard work by farmers from the Tanekaha area finally paid off.
On Sunday, more than 250 people joined the Tanekaha community to celebrate the return of the kiwi and see them released on to pest-controlled farmland.
The release of 12 Northland brown kiwi back into the Tanekaha Community Pest Control Area, was a dream come true for the farming community.
By 2012, kiwi in the Tanekaha area on the edge of the Hikurangi swamp had dwindled to just one pair known as Two-Toes and Binky. Although Two-Toes and Binky were producing eggs, it wasn't safe for them to stay, as there were too many predators in the area for kiwi chicks to survive. In areas where stoats and other predators are not controlled, 95 per cent of kiwi chicks are killed before their first birthday.
Five viable kiwi eggs were removed from the Tanekaha area by Department of Conservation (DOC) rangers. The eggs were incubated by Auckland Zoo and Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre, as part of Operation Nest Egg.
The chicks were then placed on predator-free Motuora Island. Motuora is a "kiwi creche" where kiwi chicks live until they reach around 1.2kg. At this weight, they're strong enough to defend themselves from stoats and can be taken off the island and released into predator-controlled areas on the mainland.
Edwin Smith, co-ordinator of the Tanekaha Community Pest Control Area said it was heartbreaking to see kiwi eggs removed from the area because it wasn't safe for them to stay.
"Our farming community decided it was up to us to turn this around and get our kiwi back."
The Tanekaha Community Pest Control Area was launched in September 2012 with farmers signing an agreement with Northland Regional Council to establish a pest-control programme. The goal was to reduce pests to make the area a safer environment for kiwi to survive.
NRC assisted the community to establish a network of predator traps throughout 800ha, including farmland, patches of native forest, pine forest and swamp. Animal pests controlled in the area include stoats, weasels, ferrets, rats, feral cats, hedgehogs and possums. After four years of community pest control, the Tanekaha area is now safe, once again, for kiwi.
"Two Toes and Binky have now hatched three kiwi chicks. The chicks have been able to stay because the pest-controlled area is safe for them. We can also welcome more kiwi into the area. This will boost the kiwi population and increase the genetic diversity of the kiwi bred in the area," Mr Smith said.
"We're aiming to release up to 20 kiwi into the pest-controlled area at Tanekaha over the next few years. This will provide us with a solid foundation to build a self-sustaining breeding population in the area."
Ngaire Tyson from the New Zealand Landcare Trust and Kiwi Coast said they were proud to support the Tanekaha community.
The kiwi were gathered on Saturday night from Motuora Island by a team of DOC rangers and trained Tanekaha locals.
DOC ranger Rolf Fuchs led the operation and the kiwi were carried by boat from Motuora to Sandspit, near Warkworth, then transported by road to Northland, by DOC rangers, a team of Tanekaha Community Pest Control Area drivers and Ngati Manuhiri representatives.
The Fonterra DOC Living Water partnership covered the cost of transporting the kiwi from Motuora to Tanekaha. Living Water also funded transmitters - fitted to each kiwi before their release - and equipment that picks up the signals from the transmitters.